Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio
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Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosted the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

voting booths
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Monday lawyers and election staff are ready to handle any disruptions at the polls Tuesday.

That’s as there’s no word from the state Supreme Court on whether to allow the open carry of guns at polling places.

Nessel said in a phone call that no matter which way the decision goes, there are laws against brandishing firearms and disrupting polling places. 

polling place sign
Tony Brown / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court is the next stop in a legal fight over whether guns can be openly carried at polling places on Election Day. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel say guns can be intimidating – especially in a contentious election. But gun rights advocates say the state can’t step on a right that’s guaranteed under state law.

Polling station sign
user jaina / Creative Commons

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel say it’s not too late to reinstate a ban on openly carrying guns at or near polling places on Election Day.

They are appealing a court ruling that struck down a directive from Benson that banned open carry in and near polling places on Election Day.

sign marking poll distance banning campaigning at polling places
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

A judge has blocked a ban on the open display of guns near Michigan polling places on Election Day. Judge Christopher Murray acted Tuesday, just a few hours after hearing a challenge from gun-rights groups.

Unless it’s reversed by a higher court, it applies to voting places and absentee counting boards November 3. The only exception would be churches and other places that are already allowed to forbid the open carry of guns.

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A lawsuit is challenging the rules ordered by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for partisan poll challengers on Election Day.

The complaint says distancing and face covering directives will make it too difficult for poll challengers to see what’s going on as voters are checked in at voting sites.

voter booth
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Gun rights groups are trying to reverse Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s ban on openly carrying firearms where people will vote or where ballots are counted on Election Day. Benson’s office said she has a legal duty to protect voters and poll workers from intimidation, harassment, and coercion.

Three groups filed a lawsuit Friday in the Michigan Court of Claims. Dean Greenblatt is an attorney for the group Michigan Open Carry. He says Benson is acting outside her authority.

gretchen whitmer and joneigh khaldun at podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed bills into law Thursday that show Democrats and Republicans can find room to cooperate on the state’s response to COVID-19.

The bills are the result of bipartisan deal-making. They offer employers more protection from lawsuits and employees more guarantees they can’t be forced to work in situations that could place their health in danger.

Pixabay

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued an order to allow more in-person visits with people in nursing homes.

The order applies to facilities in counties the state has identified as “low risk.”

Michigan Capitol Building
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Republican state lawmakers have presented their version of a COVID-19 response plan.

The state House GOP proposal follows a court ruling that struck down many of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s unilateral emergency orders.

joneigh khaldun at a press conference
michigan.gov

The state’s chief medical executive testified Monday before a joint House and Senate committee examining the state’s COVID-19 response.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s Chief Medical Executive, told the committee there will be new COVID-19 public health orders issued soon that don’t require the Legislature’s approval.

Michigan Capitol Building
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The legislative committee looking into the state’s COVID-19 response meets again Monday. Top health officials in Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration will face questions from the committee.

State Representative Matt Hall, (R-Marshall) chairs the joint House and Senate COVID-19 committee.

He expects there will be questions about infections in nursing homes and why some parts of the economy were allowed to re-open while similar businesses remained in shutdown.  

Polling place
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she’s using her authority to ensure fair and orderly elections to ban openly carrying firearms at polling places.

Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
Matthileo / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

An eighth man faces a criminal charge in connection with the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and put her on trial over her COVID-19 orders.

51-year-old Brian Higgins is being held in Wisconsin awaiting extradition to Antrim County in northwest Michigan.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign a series of bills adopted by the Legislature as part of a deal on the state’s response to COVID-19.

The bills are the product of bargaining between the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor after the Michigan Supreme Court struck down her continued use of emergency orders.

gretchen whitmer sitting at table
michigan.gov

State and federal authorities have charged a group of 13 suspected terrorists in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and recruit militia members to storm the state Capitol.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the FBI announced the charges Thursday. They say the men wanted to overthrow the state government and incite a civil war.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Senate returns Thursday after the Michigan Supreme Court declared many of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders unconstitutional.

First the Senate and then the House will meet on consecutive days to adopt their own plans and send them to Whitmer to sign or veto.

gretchen whitmer at a press conference
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday a court opinion that said she exceeded her authority with a series of COVID-19 emergency orders will not be the final word on the issue.

Whitmer said on CNN the advisory opinion from the state’s highest court puts the health of Michiganders at risk. The Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion said the governor exceeded her authority by issuing and re-issuing orders that require masks, distancing, and restricting public gatherings without getting approval from the Legislature.

someone holding a clipboard while another person signs a petition
Svetlana / Adobe Stock

A petition drive has turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures in an effort to restrict Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s broad emergency powers.

The governor has used that authority to enact policies to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The Unlock Michigan campaign says Whitmer’s abused that power, hurting businesses and unnecessarily restricting everyday activities for Michiganders.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Legislature’s Republican leaders are challenging a court decision that says mailed-in votes that are postmarked by November 2 must be counted. That’s even if they arrive after Election Day.

That decision came last month from a Michigan Court of Claims judge. She said ballots that arrive within two weeks of Election Day must be included in the total. That’s due in part to the surge in absentee voting this year due to COVID-19.

Money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a $62.7 billion state budget for the new fiscal year that begins Thursday.

The budget did not reduce funds for schools or for local governments. That’s despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

The COVID-19 state of emergency in Michigan has been extended by Governor Gretchen Whitmer through October 27.

This action is not a surprise since Governor Whitmer already said she intended to renew the emergency declaration. But it’s still controversial since her authority to do so and continue to issue emergency orders is being challenged in court.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

There is a swirl of litigation already surrounding the November election and absentee ballots. Two former Republican secretaries of state have added their names to the mix with a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. Terri Lynn Land and Ruth Johnson want a judge to set a hard deadline of 8 p.m. election night for absentee ballots to arrive with local clerks, or else they cannot be counted.

Their lawsuit disputes a decision by a Michigan Court of Claims judge that ballots must be counted if they are postmarked by the day before the November 3 election and arrive before the results are certified 14 days later.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she will extend the COVID-19 state of emergency. It would otherwise expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Michigan and national Republican parties are asking a judge to reconsider her decision to allow absentee ballots to be counted if they arrive at clerks’ offices after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

This latest lawsuit comes as absentee voting has already begun in Michigan. Republicans are asking Judge Cynthia Stephens to rule that ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day – regardless of when they were mailed or postmarked – cannot be counted. That appears unlikely since it would require Stephens to reverse an earlier ruling.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s cabinet members offered more details Friday on the goal of making Michigan a “carbon neutral” state within 30 years.

The plans include adding electric vehicle charging stations at state parks and recreation areas, and working with utilities to reduce emissions.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Absentee voting began Thursday in Michigan.

Absentee ballots were put in the mail to people who requested them. Registered voters can also stop by clerks’ offices to fill out their ballots.

In a web conference with progressive activists, Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted the election in Michigan was very close in 2016.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers tapped into federal COVID-19 relief money and the state’s “rainy day” savings fund to adopt a finalized budget plan Wednesday and send the bills to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Leading up to the votes, the process was swift and secretive. There were no hearings, and most lawmakers were briefed on the details just a few hours earlier. But it was widely acknowledged the times are unusual.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Republican leaders in the Legislature are making their final push to reverse a court ruling that absentee ballots that arrive at clerks’ offices after Election Day must be counted.

The first step is for House and Senate GOP leaders to ask to become direct parties to the case. A motion filed Tuesday asked for standing to challenge a Court of Claims decision.

Rex Roof / Creative Commons

More retailers will resume accepting bottle and can returns starting October 5.

Larger stores with machines in front have been taking returnables, but the rule now applies to all retailers with machines.

Amy Drumm is with the Michigan Retailers Association.

“Not every store will be accepting cans and bottles yet. There are still stores that don’t have reverse vending machines, that hand count those or sort them by hand. And those will be continued to be allowed to put that on hold,” she said.

"Vote here" sign
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office is ready to prosecute any efforts to use intimidation or misinformation to illegally swing the November elections.

Nessell, a Democrat, has compiled a list of laws that are supposed to deter election meddling. She says meddling includes threats that registering to vote could put government benefits at risk, or misleading people on where or how to vote.

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